Cognitive science is a cross-disciplinary effort to understand the mind and brain. Neuroimaging is a central tool in this effort but has been limited to equipment capable of achieving either high spatial or temporal resolution of brain activity. Recent electroencephalography (EEG) equipment and associated software advances, however, allow for both high spatial and temporal (i.e., 4-D) resolution through source localization of the electrical EEG signal as measured noninvasively (and inexpensively) through the scalp. The resulting data could put scientists and clinicians in the position to understand brain function as it occurs in the real-world if there were established methodological approaches to analyze such data. The Principal Investigators are developing a procedure that is capable of analyzing brain data resulting from naturalistic stimuli that could be applied to 4-D EEG data. This award provides an upgrade of existing EEG equipment, additional equipment, and software that, when combined, will achieve high source localization accuracy and allow them to test their approach on source localized 4-D EEG data. It will permit the purchase of a 256 EEG system.

A goal of cognitive science is to understand the brain under conditions in which it is thought to have evolved, typically develop, and normally function. That is, under ecological, natural, or real-world conditions. This has not yet been possible with existing equipment and methodological techniques. This is in part because of spatial or temporal limitations of neuroimaging equipment have necessitated the use of tightly controlled and usually reductionist stimuli that do not always resemble anything one might encounter in the world. By applying the aforementioned analysis method to 4-D data resulting from naturalistic stimuli, the investigators will be able to understand how the brain realistically yields behavior for the first time. Thus, cognitive science will have a new and transformative tool to understand mind and brain.

The requested instrumentation will be used in a cross-disciplinary effort at Hamilton College. Specifically, the equipment will advance research in laboratories in the Departments of Psychology and Neuroscience pertaining to the organization of language and the brain and in Computer Science pertaining to human computer interaction. Both labs make use of real-world stimuli or situations to understand mind and brain in more realistic terms. The advocated approach will also serve to create other collaborations that will be facilitated by the students at Hamilton who have the an exceptional opportunity to participate in lab-based curricula. It will be easier for these students to conduct experiments using naturalistic stimuli and will make research more accessible to them and, therefore, enhance their educational experience. Validations of the described methods using the acquired equipment will be disseminated in peer-reviewed journals and all software will be made publicly available. This will ultimately have a broad impact outside of Hamilton college: Allowing physicians to use naturalistic stimuli will ultimately improve retention in therapeutic programs if patients can do something they enjoy while brain data is collected (e.g., watching television). Furthermore, the high spatial and temporal resolution data acquired under these natural conditions could lead to better predictors, diagnosis, and treatment of disease.

Project Report

Our award allowed us to acquire electroencephalography (EEG) equipment, software, and computing infrastructure to perform neuroimaging at both high spatial and temporal resolution (i.e., 4-D) through accurate source localization of the electrical EEG signal as measured noninvasively through the scalp. The new instruments were used in a cross-disciplinary effort at Hamilton College, across laboratories in the Departments of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Computer Science, involving several faculty labs. One of our major aims was to understand the brain in more ecological, natural, or real-world conditions. By applying novel analysis methods to 4-D EEG data resulting from more naturalistic stimuli, we believe this equipment has increased out understanding of how the brain naturally produces behavior. Indeed, resulting work on this topic has been presented at many international conferences and published in a top peer-reviewed journal with more publications in preparation. For example, in "Echoes of the spoken past: how auditory cortex hears context during speech perception" (by PI Jeremy I Skipper, published in 2014 in the Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci.), we addressed a surprisingly unanswered question: What does auditory cortex (AC) do with speech sounds? Using NSF MRI equipment, we showed that what we 'hear' during real-world speech perception may come more from the brain than our ears and that the function of AC is to confirm or deny internal predictions about the identity of sounds. This is a very different answer to the question of what AC does with speech than has been traditionally assumed. Another major aim of the award was to involve Hamilton College undergraduates in cutting edge research. Indeed, hundreds of students have had the unique opportunity among undergraduate institutions to participate in lab-based curricula using the EEG equipment. These students have used the equipment as part of their course work and have conducted their own experiments. We believe these experiences have significantly enhanced their educational experience as expressed in student feedback. Though the funding period of the award has ended, the acquired EEG equipment will continue to have an impact on both faculty and student research and student education.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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John E. Yellen
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Hamilton College
United States
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